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Caroline Weber, Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette wore to the French Revolution (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2006).

I just finished reading Weber's excellent book Queen of Fashion, and I think it is a must read for anyone interested in fashion history, the Ancien Regime in France, and the controversial figure of Queen Marie Antoinette.

Weber takes a unique stance in her analysis of the life of the doomed Queen, and the political climate in France during the decades leading up to the French Revolution as she explores how Marie Antoinette chose to adorn herself. Her sartorial choices made her a fashion superstar in Paris and Versailles, and ultimately led to her demise and death.

As the teenage Dauphine, Marie Antoinette's position at the French court was incredibly unstable due to her unconsumated marriage to the future Louis XVI.  To assert her power and position, the young Marie Antoinette became an avid equestrienne, and adorned herself in men's riding habits.  Once she became Queen, Marie Antoinette developed a close relationship with the marchande des mode Rose Bertin (in essence, a stylist), and the ensembles they dreamt up for the monarch created a sensation, and she became the most infuential trend setter in Europe. Marie Antoinette was instrumental in establishing the simplified, cotton muslin chemise gowns as the most fashionable frock for women just before the Revolution (it is interesting to note that although the Queen did not survive the Revolution, her chemise gowns did, and became the silhouette of choice during the Directory period). Unfortunately, it was her extravagant spending on fashion, and her rejection of the strict dress codes and social structure of Versailles that made her incredibly unpopular with the French people.

Weber is successful in portraying how Marie Antoinette used clothing to express her individuality, her political stance, and her most private emotions.  The book is incredibly well written, and Weber is sensitive to telling the true story of an individual who has often been misinterpreted by historians.  Queen of Fashion clearly establishes Marie Antoinette as a true fashion icon, and a unique historical figure.

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